Jim Garrison and JFK Assassination Conspiracy Writers

Responsible Conspiracists Condemned Garrison

Jim Garrison's Harshest Critics

By Dave Reitzes

Oliver Stone's movie JFK, Jim Garrison's book On the Trail of the Assassins, and the hearty band of Garrison supporters gathered around Probe Magazine have made his brand of conspiracy theorizing unfortunately "mainstream." So it's now easy to forget that most conspiracy writers have been shocked and appalled by Jim Garrison and his tactics. Writing in 1967, Sylvia Meagher said that:
. . . as the Garrison investigation continued to unfold, it gave cause for increasingly serious misgivings about the validity of his evidence, the credibility of his witnesses, and the scrupulousness of his methods. The fact that many critics of the Warren Report have remained passionate advocates of the Garrison investigation, even condoning tactics which they might not condone on the part of others, is a matter of regret and disappointment (Accessories After the Fact, 1992 ed., 456-7).

And in the New York Review of Books (that same year) she said that the testimony of Perry Raymond Russo (Garrison's key witness) "seems to me inherently bereft of credibility." She passed similar judgment on another important witness (Vernon Bundy), and noting that the then available evidence supporting Garrison's case was "at best, vulnerable" she concluded "I find no basis for assuming that the still-submerged evidence will be convincing or conclusive."

"You have every right to play Mack Sennett in a Keystone Kops Pink Panther," Harold Weisberg wrote to Oliver Stone while JFK was in production, "but as an investigator, Jim Garrison could not find a pubic hair in a whorehouse at rush hour" (Robert Sam Anson, "The Shooting of JFK," Esquire, November 1991; reprinted in Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film, 221). "Garrison was a tragedy," Weisberg wrote in a letter to me in 1998.

Peter Noyes writes:

Garrison was wrong about Clay Shaw and Edgar Eugene Bradley [another Garrison suspect]. The case against them was a monumental fraud.

Every time Garrison opened his mouth in the days after Ferrie's death, his appearance of credibility appeared to be giving way to one of lunacy

Perhaps the most perceptive observer of the circus in New Orleans was Hugh Aynesworth [who wrote] 'Jim Garrison is right. There has been a conspiracy in New Orleans -- but it is a plot of Garrison's own making. It is a scheme to concoct a fantastic 'solution' to the death of John F. Kennedy, and to make it stick; in this cause the district attorney and his staff have been parties to the death of one man and have humiliated, harassed and financially gutted several others.'

The trial was a sham; it was perhaps the most disgraceful legal event of the twentieth century. (Legacy of Doubt, 108-9, 111,114).

Noyes' statements are reprinted in Peter Dale Scott, Paul L. Hoch and Russell Stetler, eds., The Assassinations: Dallas and Beyond, 296-300. That book's editors call the Shaw prosecution "seemingly indefensible (Ibid., 9).

Of Oliver Stone's JFK, Dr. Michael L. Kurtz, author of Crime of the Century: The Kennedy Assassination from a Historian's Perspective, writes:

As a historian, I find the distortions of Jim Garrison and Oliver Stone appalling. Garrison's case was based almost entirely on the dubious testimony of Perry Raymond Russo (1993 ed., xiii).
In Contract on America: The Mafia Murder of President John F. Kennedy, David E. Scheim writes that
. . . as Garrison's case unfolded, his specific accusations became increasingly outlandish and the thrust of his efforts increasingly questionable. Especially bizarre was Garrison's prosecution of Clay Shaw . . . It took the jury less than an hour to find Shaw innocent of Garrison's extravagant accusations" (p. 48).
Writes Henry Hurt:
Jim Garrison's performance proved to be disappointing, particularly after months of highly publicized promises of what he would present at the trial. He produced no witnesses to suggest CIA involvement in an assassination conspiracy. He produced nothing, really, that went beyond what had been presented at the preliminary hearing two years earlier (Reasonable Doubt, pp. 276-7).
Hurt then criticizes Garrison's "shocking tactics," and notes, "To many observers, Jim Garrison seemed obsessed with the destruction of Clay Shaw" (Ibid., 278).

Discussing Garrison's cameo appearance in JFK as the late Earl Warren, longtime researcher Paul Hoch writes in Echoes of Conspiracy, "Unintentionally, this is not just an ironic touch: the actions of both men did much to discourage or co-opt other investigations." Hoch quotes David Lifton as calling Garrison "intellectually dishonest, a reckless prosecutor, and a total charlatan."

Anthony Summers writes in Conspiracy (First Paragon House paperback edition, 1989), in "Update . . . November 1991:"

Those who have long labored to uncover the truth about Dallas might be expected to be happy about [the movie] J.F.K. In a sense they are . . .

[But] three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone . . . has made some bizzare decisions. From a vast array of scholarship, he picked a book by Jim Garrison, former District Attorney of New Orleans, as his main source work. . . .

You will find only a sprinkling of references to Garrison in this book. His probe has long been recognized by virtually everyone -- including serious scholars who believe there was a conspiracy -- as a grotesque, misdirected shambles. As Esquire magazine pointed out this November, there were things director Stone did not at first know about Garrison. About his separation from the U.S. Army, "following diagnosis that he was in need of long-term psychotherapy." About his "close association with organized crime, whose soldiers and capos he rarely prosecuted . . . " About "the bribery and income-tax evasion trials in which he was exonerated."

Yet, even when he did learn these things, Stone persisted in his association with Garrison and a bunch of other buffs, so-called witnesses and experts whom serious observers dismiss as cranks or worse. . . .

"The Garrison affair was sown with the seeds of its own destruction," Harrison Livingstone writes, "by the premature charging of a suspect (Clay Shaw) with no case against him" (Livingstone, Killing the Truth, 537).

Oswald defender Howard Roffman notes:

Shaw . . . was easily acquitted after a two-month proceeding in which all the shocking evidence against him promised by Garrison failed to materialize. Garrison was in consequence widely condemned by the media, and the New Orleans fiasco caused the virtual destruction of whatever foundation for credibility had previously been established by critics of the Warren Report. . . . [H]is unethical behavior and the mockery of justice . . . left the public and the media highly suspicious of Warren Report criticism" (Presumed Guilty, 28-9).
G. Robert Blakey and Richard N. Billings' Fatal Hour: The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime, states:
The evidence of Shaw's participation in a conspiracy was flimsy, and from his indictment to eventual acquittal in 1969, the course of the investigation was downhill to disaster (Ibid., 53). The testimony of the 'star witness,' Perry Raymond Russo, had been blatantly concocted (Ibid., 193).
Even one of Garrison's most ardent advocates and a personal friend of the onetime DA had to take exception to the fictionalized Garrison case portrayed by Oliver Stone in "JFK." From Mark Lane, "Fact or Fiction? The Moviegoer's Guide to the Film JFK," Rush to Judgment, 1992 ed. . . .
[Oliver] Stone chose as his hero Jim Garrison. I was delighted when I first heard that news. However, unwilling to record history and true only to the Hollywood concept of a technicolor version of black and white in which no grays are countenanced, Stone, to prove how correct Garrison had been, was determined to demonstrate how guilty Clay Shaw had been.

Garrison had prosecuted Shaw in New Orleans for conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy. After a lengthy trial Shaw had been acquitted in record time by a jury whose deliberations were extended primarily because they were enjoying a wonderful New Orleans meal provided by Mother's restaurant, a New Orleans gastronomical landmark.

Stone was confronted with a problem. If the evidence Garrison had gathered had not been sufficient to establish Shaw's guilt in the minds of an objective juror, how could he, Stone, prove Shaw's guilt to the satisfaction of his audience?

Here Stone becomes inventive. He was neither bound by the cumbersome rules of evidence nor the rules of criminal procedure. He could create celluloid evidence. Shaw had died; therefore, Stone was not bound by the laws of defamation which apply, in the United States, only to the living. Apparently, the less-codified rules of common decency were not an impediment either" (p. xxxi).


Was "Bertrand" really Clay Shaw, Garrison wondered. Shaw consistently denied that he had ever used that pseudonym. I never saw credible evidence which convinced me that he had ever used the alias. Stone, untroubled by evidence, fact or logic, showed Shaw apparently offering to the first police officer who inquired that he had used the name "Bertrand." If Shaw had used the false name as part of his CIA cover so that the telephone call [to Andrews] could not be traced back to him, why would he have betrayed himself at the first opportunity? Stone did not dwell on the subject. Through the magic of celluloid he abandoned the scene" (p. xxxii).


Where Stone labors to demean Clay Shaw and to condemn him by introducing a bizarre gay orgy scene and by inventing a meeting with David Ferrie and the district attorney's staff, he is indulging his own fantasies and misleading the audience" (p. xxxiii).

By embracing Garrison -- even cautiously, such as with early Garrison suspects like Dave Ferrie -- conspiracy theorists have ensured their own marginalization. I speak as someone who myself was blind to how badly Garrison tainted our credibility until I looked carefully into Garrison's primary sources, and realized it wasn't just a matter of him having no case against Shaw -- it was a matter of him having nothing.
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